Barcelona cruised to a 3-0 win at home to the ten men of Elche on Saturday afternoon, strolling to La Liga’s summit against the team propping up the table.
The Catalans bounced back from their Champions League frustrations against Bayern Munich with an easy victory against opponents that conspired to make the afternoon as straightforward as possible for their hosts.
Elche arrived at Camp Nou – a ground at which they have never won – with one La Liga point and a game plan. Sitting in a passive low block, the visitors laboured over each restart almost from kick-off, willing the seconds to spill away.
However, the red card captain Gonzalo Verdu received in the 14th minute for rugby-tackling Robert Lewandowski to the turf was not part of Elche’s pre-match script.
Down to ten within a quarter of an hour, Elche’s timid 5-3-1 didn’t even close the space between the lines. Pedri could receive the ball on the edge of the box and calmly slide it to Alejandro Balde on the left at his leisure. The academy product fired a pass across the area which Memphis Depay missed but Lewandowski bundled in after 33 minutes.
Depay was unquestionably the target of Balde’s pass barely five minutes later. Accepting the ball in the box with his back to goal and John Nwankwo breathing down his neck, Depay twisted away from the defender trying to ascertain his cologne, blasting a shot as vicious as his spin into the roof of the net.
On the cusp of half-time, Elche’s Francisco had joined his skipper in the changing rooms. Pedri had a third for Barcelona ruled out for offside but the visiting manager was punished for his apoplectic reaction before VAR intervened.
The first two scorers combined as Barcelona resumed their scoring within three minutes of the restart. Depay made a nuisance of himself in the six-yard box, forcing the ball loose for Lewandowski to stride onto, sweeping in his second and Barcelona’s third.
With such a healthy advantage and scant sign of Elche offering so much as a limp prod towards goal – the visitors didn’t attempt a single shot until the 90th minute – Barcelona slowed the contest to a crawl, cranking up the tempo when the mood struck them.
Lewandowski was uncharacteristically wasteful on his return to Bayern Munich in midweek but brushed aside any cobwebs as he took his tally to 11 in eight outings – even if he did squander multiple opportunities to nab his first La Liga hat-trick on Saturday.
With Pedri pulling the strings and Raphinha injecting more urgency down the right, Elche were fortunate to emerge having been breached just three times.
GK: Marc-Andre ter Stegen – 6/10 – Given so little to do in the first half, it was mildly surprising he bothered trotting out after the break. He needn’t have.
RB: Jules Kounde – 6/10 – Intermittently burst forward to offer himself as a decoy, creating space for Ousmane Dembele more than anything else.
CB: Ronald Araujo – 7/10 – Found the match so effortless that he had the awareness to hop over the Barcelona badge on the side of the pitch after another proactive intervention – eliciting a squall of ‘Uruguayo’ chants in appreciation of his respect.
CB: Eric Garcia – 6/10 – Quick to snuff out Elche’s sporadic attempts to counterattack while the moves were in their infancy.
LB: Alejandro Balde – 8/10 – The spare man as he held the width on the left, Balde delivered the second and third La Liga assists of his career.
CM: Franck Kessie – 5/10 – Eager to burst into the opposition box but often clumsy when he arrived. His performance was considered disappointing enough to see him substituted at half-time.
CM: Frenkie de Jong – 6/10 – Almost every Barcelona attack went through the Dutchman, collecting the ball off his centre-backs and probing from there.
CM: Pedri – 8/10 – Nonchalantly stroking the ball around the pitch, Pedri seemed to know exactly where and when to play the pass to find a teammate in space.
RW: Ousmane Dembele – 7/10 – Rapidly established he could outrun and outwit Elche’s left-back Carlos Clerc. It was his cross that forced the third goal.
ST: Robert Lewandowski – 8/10 – Keen to get involved in the buildup without impinging on his ever-presence in the six-yard box when the ball made its way into the danger area.
LW: Memphis Depay – 8/10 – Used his strength expertly, thriving against the touch-tight approach Elche employed to remind Xavi of his threat (at least against the division’s bottom side).
SUB: Gavi (46′ for Kessie) – 6/10 – Scampered around the pitch with his usual, infectious enthusiasm and provided more composure at the sharp end of the pitch than Kessie.
SUB: Ansu Fati (59′ for Depay) – 5/10
SUB: Hector Bellerin (60′ for Garcia) – 5/10
SUB: Raphinha (60′ for Dembele) – 6/10 – His arrival in place of Dembele didn’t stop Barcelona funnelling the majority of their attacks down the right.
SUB: Ferran Torres (72′ for Lewandowski) – N/A
Manager: Xavi Hernandez – 6/10 – Constantly ushering over his players to deliver instructions during each stoppage. However, the hapless visitors did most of his work for him.
Player of the Match – Robert Lewandowski
RUMOUR: Man Utd could launch shock Pickford swoop as they consider letting De Gea go
Manchester United may consider a shock bid for Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the midst of uncertainty encompassing David De Gea’s future, reports propose.
As per the Telegraph, United are not persuaded they need to broaden De Gea’s agreement, which runs out in June and procures him an astounding £350,000, and could allow him to go free of charge in June.
The Spanish shot-stopper, who was omitted from Luis Enrique’s Spain squad for the international break, suffered a poor start to the season with a raft of errors most notably at Brentford.
And United are also dealing with a high wage bill that reached a Premier League record of £384million last season.
The Red Devils announced earlier this week that their salaries have increased by a whopping £61.6m from the previous year.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s return as well as Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane’s arrivals led to a 19.1 per cent increase in their salary bill as well as a net loss amounting to £115.5m.
United are assessing their long-term plans and a change between the sticks can’t be ruled out, even though De Gea, 31, has improved recently and has been integral in the last 11 years at Old Trafford.
That could bring England’s No1 Pickford, 28, into the frame come January.
The Everton shot stopper has various clubs carefully monitoring his situation as he will have just one year left on his Everton contract at the end of the season.
The England international is also a homegrown player, which is very appealing to his suitors.
The new signings that will dominate the Premier League this season
In every league around the world, there are players who stand head and shoulders above the competition. The players who dominate those around them and put teams to sword.
When it comes to the Premier League, there’s a number of new signings looking to do just that in 2022/23 – and they will take some serious stopping.
Liverpool’s new shiny striker Darwin Nunez was an imperious force in Portugal’s Premeira Liga last season, racking up 26 goals in just 28 appearances for Benfica.
The Uruguayan was equally as effective on the Champions League stage, and it was his performance in the two-legged game against Liverpool that convinced Jurgen Klopp and the club’s hierarchy to part ways with £64m – potentially rising to £85m if Nunez activates all the bonus payments and clauses added on to the deal.
A strong, powerful player, Nunez has already shown what’s to come in some impressive early season performances.
Arsenal have been crying out for a central striker oozing quality ever since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fell out of favour before leaving.
In Gabriel Jesus, they have acquired a proven winner, stemming from a number of hugely successful seasons with Manchester City. A versatile player who possesses skill, pace and a keen eye for goal, 25-year-old Jesus is only just entering the prime of his career – and brings so much experience to the table.
The Gunners are looking to bag a top-four finish in the Champions League and, with Jesus leading the line, they have every chance of dominating games this season.
Tottenham manager Antonio Conte demands the very best from each and every one of his players, with the Italian’s standards set as high as anybody in the game.
Croatian winger Ivan Perisic is somebody Conte worked with at Inter, and the pair lifted the Serie A title together in convincing fashion. The 33-year-old is heading towards the twilight of his career, but his incredible fitness, work ethic and mental strength means he remains one of the world’s very best wide players.
Operating as a wing-back these days, Perisic can dominate games in any third of the field, and Premier League defences will be terrified by the unknown threat he carries.
Kalidou Koulibaly has long been recognised as one of Serie A’s best defenders, but now he’s got the opportunity to show that he’s one of the very best the world has to offer.
A terrific reader of the game and fiercely strong in the tackle, Koulibaly has made a habit of pocketing forwards and dominating play from the back – something Chelsea have been crying out since Antonio Rudiger departed for Real Madrid.
Now in his peak years as a centre-half, Koulibaly has all the tools to ensure Chelsea dominate the vast majority of games they play in.
One of the standout performers at Manchester City for a number of years, Raheem Sterling decided to try something new after accepting that Pep Guardiola could no longer offer him the number of his starts his talent deserves.
City’s loss is very much Chelsea’s gain, with 27-year-old Sterling established as one of the Premier League’s most consistent forwards. Be it scoring goals, creating chances or breaking on the counter at pace, the England international continues to strike fear into defences up and down the country.
Already a member of the Premier League’s ‘100 club’, expect Sterling to deliver in spades full for Graham Potter and Chelsea.
Fulham returned to the Premier League in style last season, storming to the Championship title at a canter.
Life won’t be so easy for the Cottagers in the Premier League, but in Joao Palhinha they may have completed one of the most impressive bits of transfer business in the division. A star player at Sporting CP, Palhinha has all the attributes required to dominate Premier League midfields – with his stunning goal at Nottingham Forest a glimpse of what he can do.
Standing 6’3 tall, Palhinha was once named in the Premeira Liga Team of the Year, and he could push Fulham towards safety with some commanding displays.
Chances are if one player is going to dominate the Premier League above all else, it’s going to be Erling Haaland.
In the interest of sporting fairness, it was probably a touch unnecessary for Manchester City to sign Haaland, given how good they are already and given how unbelievably good he is. Nevertheless, the reigning Premier League champions got the deal done for a steal of a price – and the Norwegian now looks primed to tear defences apart week after week.
Unbelievably athletic and incredibly consistent, Haaland’s career statistics speak for themselves, and his opening day double-salvo against West Ham was the first warning shot to the rest of the Premier League – the 22-year-old is here and he is here to dominate.
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Sir Alex Ferguson backed Eric Cantona to become Man Utd’s ‘President of Football’
Manchester United legend Eric Cantona has revealed that Sir Alex Ferguson backed him to become the club’s ‘President of Football’, only for former CEO Ed Woodward to pour cold water on the concept.
Cantona, one of the Premier League’s first global icons after breaking away from the Football League, joined United from bitter rivals Leeds in 1992 and would go on to win four titles and two FA Cups with the Red Devils.
After retiring in 1997, Cantona coached France’s beach football team for 14 years, while he also had a brief stint as Director of Soccer for the reformed New York Cosmos.
But speaking to The Athletic, the Frenchman revealed he had other grand plans to return to football, insistent on helping out former club United.
“Last year I proposed to the club to change their way,” Cantona said.
“Ed Woodward is great at marketing but not great at football. I think you have a chairman and should have a president of administration/marketing and then a president of football, who is in charge of all decisions in football.
“So I proposed to them to be ‘President of Football’.
“First I met Sir Alex Ferguson, to say this to him and know what he thought about it. And he thought it was a good idea.
“He introduced me to Mr. Woodward…I met him a few times. But they did not accept it!
“I said to myself: ‘For five years I will put everything on hold and concentrate 100 per cent on that’. And if I concentrate 100 per cent on that, then I can tell you, I would do it very well; very, very, very well.
“They did not want me! The fans have to know that I went and travelled to Manchester to give them the opportunity to succeed in the next decades. And they did not want it.”
Cantona also asserted he did not want to accept an ambassadorial role with the club, adding: “I have the kind of personality that does not want to be an ambassador.
“To be an ambassador of the club you have to do the promotion of the club. And me, well if I want to say something, I will say it. Most of the things I say are great things, but if I think something that the people from the club do not like, then I am [now] free to say it. As an ambassador, you cannot say these kind of things, so you lose your freedom.”
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